Archive for the ‘Intelligence’ Category

Obama: “We tortured some folks…It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks (our law enforcement and our national security teams) were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.” (full transcript)

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Developing

Excerpt from President Barack Obama’s press conference today, Fiday, August 1, 2014:

Q What about John Brennan?

THE PRESIDENT:

On Brennan and the CIA, the RDI report has been transmitted, the declassified version that will be released at the pleasure of the Senate committee.

I have full confidence in John Brennan. I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff. And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled. Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.

With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.

I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.

–Transcript, Press Conference by the President, White House, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, August 1, 2014 (2:45 P.M. EDT). The text of the transcipt is found here.

It’s hard to know what is more shocking: 1) the casual language the President used in admitting torture; 2) what he actually said (calling torturers “real patriots”; or 3) the fact that he seemed totally oblivious to the import and impact of what he was saying.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s six crises and collapsing foreign policy: Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and China’s actions in the East and South China Seas

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Developing

President Barack Obama now faces six simultaneous crises, amid the collapsing edifice of his foreign policy. They are:

1. Russia and the Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of the eastern Ukraine continues, calling the West’s bluff that it would impose sectoral sanctions.

The fact that Russia is acting through special operations and irregular foces has no bearing on its responsibility under international law for these actions. They amount to an “armed attack” under the terms of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, creating a right self-defense on the part of the Ukraine, and a right of “collective self-defense” on the part of other states, up to and including the use of force, to repel the invasion.

Economic and other sanctions are similarly justifiable as measures of self-defense, and also as “countermeasures” in response to illegal intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

But where legal authority for action to stop the Russians is abundant and clear, the political will of the countries in the West to act effectively is almost non-existant. Instead, appeasement and a new form of “hybrid” pacifism have taken hold.

Putin knows his antagonists. As the one-month deadline for stopping support of the “separatists” in eastern Ukraine draws near, the EU and the U.S. are already backing down, talking now of further “targeted” sanctions–not sectoral sanctions. Today Obama added seven individuals to the list.

If there were any doubt in Putin’s mind about Obama’s decisiveness, the latter’s meek and temporizing responses to the advances of ISIS in Iraq should have put those doubts to rest.

Russia continues its invasion of eastern Ukraine, sending additional tanks and other equipment across the border right now.

Having concentrated control of foreign policy in the White House, President Obama does not have the decision making capacity to deal with multiple crises at the same time, or indeed the decisiveness to take timely and effective action in any one of them.

We have devoted great attention to Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and its ongoing invasion of the eastern Ukraine, because these actions and the pacifism and appeasement with which they have been met in the West directly threaten the collapse of the institutions and norms established to uphold the maintenance of international peace and security.

In the hierarchy of grave crises, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine remains the most serious, because it threatens to destroy or eviscerate the necessary tools of international law and institutions which are essential for the resolution of other crises, including those which are presently all raging at the same time.

When the question seems to be where to send the fire brigade, actually the more fundamental question is how can you keep the fire brigade functioning, and operating effectively?

See:

Brett Logiurato, “Ukraine Wants A Ceasefire — Russia Is Sending A Bunch Of Tanks Into Ukraine,” Business Insider, June 20, 2014 (1:16 p.m.).

To be continued…

2. Iraq

The armed forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured Mosul, and are driving south toward Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmurga forces have occupied Kirkuk. The tribes in the Sunni triangle are collaborating with ISIS. The newly elected Parliament is to convene and elect a new prime minister.

Iraq has requested the U.S. to conduct airstrikes against ISIS forces. Obama has disatched under 300 soldiers to help protect the U.S, Embassy, and also approximately 300 special forces troops and advisers to help the Iraqi military.

If the ISIS advance is not stopped, particularly toward Shiite shrines in the south, Iran may intervene militarily to defend the shrines and the al-Maliki Shiite government.

Tellingly, one of Obama’s first moves was to go to Congressional leaders to see what actions might be politically acceptable, instead of huddling with all of his top national security officials to decide what actions are required by the exigencies of the present military and political situation in Iraq.

3. Syria

Syria has been reported by the international chemical weapons agency, charged by the Security Council with overseeing Syria’s surrender and destruction of all of its chemical weapons, as having recently used chemical weapons (chlorine gas) against its population on a number of occasions.

Such actions would appear to cross Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons use. What is he going to do about it? His “red line” seems to have been written in the sand.

4. Afghanistan

The Afghan presidential run-off election on June 14 was, according to the leading candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, the subject of massive fraud in the eastern portions of the country, the traditional base of his opponent, Ashraf Ghani.

The actions the U.S. takes in the coming days may have a decisive impact on the transparency and outcome of the election. If a satisfactory way out of the present crisis is not found, the legitimacy of the new government and the prospects for its survival after U.S. forces withdraw in 2015 could be greatly diminished.

In thinking about Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers should keep one image firmly fixed in their minds: that of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers laying down their arms and fleeing from battle as ISIS forces approached in Mosul, and elsewhere.

A full-blwn crisis has erupted.

5. Iran

A settlement of the nuclear dispute with Iran is far from assured. The six-month interim agreement will expire on July 20. The talks could not bear fruit, raising again the possibility of a military strike by Israel against Iran’s buclear installations.

6. China and territorial claims in the South and East China Seas

In the last week China has begun moving oil rigs into disputed territorial waters. This is highly provocative, and has the potential to generate an arms race with its neighbors in the region, including Vietnam, Japan and Korea.

The U.S. needs to actively intervene in this crisis to ensure it does not lead to military incidents in the region, or an arms race. The ultimate risk is that Tokyo could be driven to deploy nuclear weapons. Few doubt that it has the capability to do so.

Can President Obama and his administration handle all of these crises simultaneously, and successfully?

We shall see, and very soon.

The Trenchant Observer

Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Developing

Four days after the presidential run-off election in Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, who led the first-round results with 45% of the votes compared to 32% for Ashraf Ghani, his opponent in the Sunday second-round election, has accused the Electoral Commission of committing fraud in favor of his opponent, demanded an immediate halt to the vote-counting, and ordered his election workers to withdraw from the centers where the votes are being counted.

Abdullah witnessed massive fraud reportedly orchestrated by President Hamid Karzai in the last presidential election, in 2009, and withdrew from the second-round run-off against Karzai only under intense U.S. pressure to do so.

It appears that he is not willing to go quietly into the night again if he is robbed of a second election.

See

(1) Margherita Stancati (Kabul), “Afghan Candidate Boycotts Count of Votes; Abdullah, a Karzai Rival, Alleges Fraud in Presidential Runoff, Citing Outsize Turnout in Opponent’s Areas of Support,” Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2014 (Updated 7:40 p.m. ET)

(2) Arzam Ahmed and Matthew Rosenberg (Kabul and Pashir Valley), “Candidate’s Protest Clouds Afghan Vote-Counting for President,” New York Times, June 18, 2014.

(3) “Wahlen in Afghanistan: Favorit Abdullah verlangt Abbruch der Stimmenauszählung,” Der Spiegel, 18. Juni 2014 (17:11 Uhr).

Die Präsidentschaftswahl in Afghanistan droht zu scheitern. Vier Tage nach der Stichwahl fordert Kandidat Abdullah, die Auszählung der Stimmen zu stoppen – obwohl ihm die besseren Chancen zugesprochen werden.

(4) “AFGHANISTAN: Favorit Abdullah fordert Stopp der Stimmauszählung,” Die Zeit, 18. Juni 2014 (14:42 Uhr).

Der afghanische Präsidentschaftskandidat hat kein Vertrauen mehr in die Wahlbehörden. Bei der Stichwahl am Samstag sei massiv betrogen worden, sagte Abdullah.

(5) Le Monde.fr avec AFP, “Afghanistan: Abdullah, le favori de la présidentielle, demande la suspension du dépouillement,” 18 Juin 2014 (Mis à jour à 15h23).

Giving an idea of the scale of the alleged fraud, Stancati reported the following:

Yusuf Nuristani, chairman of the IEC , which organized the election and is counting the votes, said Saturday’s turnout was up from 6.6 million in the first round. While turnout was largely the same or lower in much of the country, the IEC’s initial tallies indicated a dramatic surge—in the areas of eastern Afghanistan that are Mr. Ghani’s base.

In the eastern province of Khost, for example, initial IEC tallies showed that more than 400,000 voters cast ballots on Saturday, up from 113,000 in the first round.

According to the 2012-13 data compiled by Afghanistan’s central statistics office, Khost’s entire population is 549,000—and, given Afghanistan’s demographic structure, at least one-third of them are children.

In the nearby province of Paktika, 390,000 voters cast their ballots on Saturday, up from 180,000. The province’s population is 414,000.

The role of the United States, which has reportedly had numerous Afghan government officials on its CIA payroll, in addition to making deliveries of bags containing millions of dollars in cash to the presidential palace on a regular basis, is not clear.

For details of the election fraud in 2009, use the search box to select articles on Afghanistan. It is found in the upper right-hand corner of our home page, which you can reach by clicking on the title banner above

The dedication of the Obama administration to a transparent counting of the votes, against this backdrop, remains to be demonstrated.

Stay tuned for further developments. The stakes are extremely high.

The perceived legitimacy of this election may well have a decisive impact on whether the soldiers in the Afghan army stand and fight after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2015, or rather lay down their arms and run, like the Iraqi soldiers who fled Mosul this last week.

The Trenchant Observer

If you accept the May 25 elections, Mr. Putin, then order a “full-stop” to aggression in the eastern Ukraine

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sent special operations forces into eastern Ukraine to spark and coordinate “separatist” rebellions by the use of force, continues to play his duplicitous and treacherous “double game” in the Ukraine.

If he hoped to retain a shred of credibility in saying he would respect the results of the May 25, 2014 national elections in the Ukraine, he would have had to call a “FULL STOP” to further violence by pro-Russian forces.

Instead, the subversive forces which he launched into action under the leadership and coordination of Russian special operations forces (including so-called “little green men”) continue to seize control of government buildings by the use of force, in a region they seek to turn into a pro-Russian dictatorship which holds sway by fear, intimidation, assassinations, and the public display and use of armed force.

Far from acting as if Russia will respect the results of the Ukrainian elections, these Russian special operations forces and intelligence operatives, whose true identities have been unmasked, are engaged in violent suppression of the exercise of fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom of the press, the right to physical integrity and to be free from the arbitrary use of force, and the right to participate in government and to vote in free and fair elections, particularly in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas.

Because the taking of a human life constitutes murder when it occurs outside the framework of domestic and international law, these Russians and Russian agents are, in clear moral and legal terms, committing murder against the Ukrainian security forces (and others) who are legitimately seeking to restore public order in the eastern Ukraine.

While Putin was announcing he would “respect” the results of the May 25 elections, Russian agents were murdering innocent Ukrainian soldiers, including in one ambush where some 17 were killed.

Now Putin strides on the world stage to claim that the invasion and annexation of the Crimea were justified under international law, and that he has no interest in further irredentist actions.

His response is due to the firmness of the West in threatening further, “Stage Three” sanctions, the enhanced deployment of NATO capabilities along the borders of NATO countries which border Russia, and the likelihood of NATO now stationing combat forces in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Romania. He may also be responding to pressures from China, which certainly does not want to see any secessionist movements succeed which might inspire Uighur or Tibetan separatists.

Putin has a losing hand, and seems to be slowly recognizing that reality. Perhaps he thinks the West and the civilized nations of the world will quickly forget about his invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

That is not a good long-term bet, as the bedrock principles of the U.N. Charter prohibiting the use of force and annexation of conquered territories may be tenaciously held and defended over the longer term. One need only think of Cyprus or East Timor to grasp the point.

In view of the above, it is now a time for vigilance against potential actions by a treacherous Russian leader, whose mendacity is evident in every statement he makes, including those intended to give a conciliatory impression in the West.

If you are going to respect the May 25 election results in the Ukraine, Mr. Putin, begin respecting the election now by calling off your special operations forces and intelligence operatives and their agents in the eastern Ukraine.

ORDER THEM TO DESIST FROM FURTHER VIOLENCE, SEIZURE OF GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS, AND ACTIONS TO DISRUPT THE HOLDING OF THE ELECTIONS ON SUNDAY.

ORDER A FULL-STOP, MR. PUTIN. NOW.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Russia’s propaganda and empty justifications for aggression in the Ukraine; the urgent need for the West to broadcast accurate news into eastern Ukraine

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

See Nik Afanasjew, “RUSSISCHE PROPAGANDA: Senden, um zu siegen; Im Krieg der Worte ist die Ukraine zum Schlachtfeld geworden; Die russische Propaganda ist Putins schärfste Waffe und Dmitri Kisseljow sein General,  Die Zeit, 28. April 2014  (17:46 Uhr)

Russia’s bald lies and cynicism in seeking to justify its aggression against the Ukraine seem to know no limits. It is difficult to understand how Foreign Mininster Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin can advance their empty justications with straight faces, and even feigned anger.

To grasp the wholly fallacious nature of their case, and their propaganda, we need to step back a little from the latest ferocious arguments over disputed facts, in which they engage in the classic strategem of defending their utterly false propaganda narrative from being deflated in any aspect by the truth.

Their key objective here is to shift the attention of the broad public, which has a short memory and does not think and feel in rational, analytical fashion, to endless and unrelenting arguments over specific details and facts, while diverting its attention from the essential facts of the larger situation.

The bad faith of the Russian justifications for their aggression can be quickly grasped by posing a series of hypothetical questions:

Would Russia view subversion by “little green men” from the West or Arab countries in the Gulf, stirring up unrest in a republic in the Caucusus, seizing buildings, and calling for a referendum on independence from Russia as legitimate, as it does similar activities in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine?

In such a situation would Russia agree that attempts to retake control of public administration buildings, by force if necessary, would be wholly illegitimate and provide troops massed on the border with a neighboring country a justification for invading the Russian republic involved?

Russia should be careful here, if they recall the events in Chechnya, and the potential for foreign subversion in restive republics within the Russian Federation.

Would Russia permit the seizure and annexation of any of its territory by China or Japan?

Would Russia and Putin accept in Russia itself the kinds of demands for regional autonomy they support in the eastern Ukraine?

Just a moment’s thought about these questions shows how empty and cynical Russia’s arguments are.

But, we must always bear in mind, Russia’s propaganda arguments are not aimed at intellectuals and pundits in the West. Rather, they are aimed at the broad public, and have a specific propaganda purpose which is an integral part of the Russian strategy of aggression.

Their goal is to create mass emotions which support the actions and goals of Russian subversion, both in eastern Ukraine (as in the Crimea earlier) and in Russia as a whole.

The entire propaganda bubble depends on denying access to any alternative narratives or versions of the facts which otherwise might be available through public dissemination, whether by television, radio, the press, or social media.

To counter Russia’s propanda supporting the “Big Lie” that Russian-speakers are under threat in the Ukraine, the West must counter Russia’s attempt to establish an “electronic curtain” around the population of the eastern Ukraine to shield them from hearing objective news reporting and the truth. That is why it is important for the Russians to seize television towers, and replace Ukrainian TV channels with Russian channels which endlessly repeat the lies of the Russian propaganda machine. That is why they have taken control of Russia’s leading social media site in recent days.

What the West Must Do to Counter Russian Propaganda

Russia shut down the Voice of America transmissions on local frequencies in Moscow just weeks before the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

This fact alone demonstrates how critically important it is to get objective, factual news reporting to be heard (and where possible seen) by the broad public in eastern Ukraine, and in Moscow.

The U.S. has the capabilities, and should use them, to get the truth into the ears of the populations of the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

Every available short- and middle-wave transmitter of Radio Free Europe (RFE), the Voice of America (VOA), and other Western state broadcasters such as Radio France International (RFI), Deutsche Welle (DW), and Radio Netherlands, should be aimed at the eastern Ukraine with round-the-clock coverage of events. Let them continue to broadcast objective news programs as well as commentary according to their own judgments. But get their signals into the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

The U.S. military has airborne broadcast capabilities, which should be used.

The bubble of Russian propaganda is what gives life support to the Russian sabateurs and special operations forces operating in the eastern Ukraine.

That bubble must be burst, within days, by establishment and operation of such enhanced broadcasts to the eastern Ukraine and to Russia itself.   All bureaucratic obstacles must be overcome on an emergency basis.  Western countries can quickly supply short-waive receivers to hear their broadcasts if middle-wave broadcasts are jammed.

The West can also help the Ukrainan government in maintaing access to the Internet in eastern Ukraine, by providing mobile cell phone platforms and internet signals, including in particular wireless wide-area networks (WWAN’s). The technology exists. Google should be brought in (quietly) to help, if necessary. Wireless wide-area network modems can be made readily available throughout the region in great numbers.

A multi-pronged attack, given the highest priority and urgency, should be able to pierce through Russia’s electronic curtain in the eastern Ukraine in fairly short order. The effect will be to let some of the air, if not a great deal of it, out of Putin’s tires.

The people in the eastern Ukraine undoubtedly have a great desire to find out the truth about events in their region, and on the diplomatic front as well.

Western countries can also assist the Ukraine in producing newspapers in Russian and Ukrainian for widespread dissemination throughout the region, making up in part for the closure and supression of local newspapers in various localities. The newspapers might usefully reproduce key articles from leading newspapers in the West and throughout the World, which would give them added credibility.

The one weapon the West has and which Russia doe not have, is the truth.

For Putin’s subversion in the eastern Ukraine to succeed, that truth must be suppressed and replaced by the blatant lies and disortions of Russian propaganda.

The West should spare no effort in piercing Russia’s electronic curtain, and taking that truth to the people of the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

Congress should immediately approve whatever emergency funds are required to produce the actions outlined above within a matter of days, not weeks.

The need for such action is extraordinarily urgent.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

To influence Putin: Strong action by the West is required—Analysis and further commentary on the Ukraine

Friday, March 14th, 2014

The Crimea is going ahead with its referendum, on Sunday, on whether it wants to be annexed by Russia. The Russian parliament or Duma is poised to annex the Crimea next week.

Vladimir Putin is now making decisions on the Ukraine only with a small inner circle of hawkish advisers heading the nation’s various security Forces. He is apparently not listening to foreign minister Sergey Lavrov or foreign ministry officials.

There are only two decisions which just possibly might be averted or reversed before they are finally made.

The first is whether to immediately proceed to have the Duma vote to annex the Crimea, following the referendum on Sunday.

The second is whether to continue to stir up strife in the Eastern Ukraine in order to provide a pretext for Russian military intervention beyond the Crimea.

Without the Crimea, pro-Western parties are quite likely to win the Ukrainian national elections scheduled for May 25, resulting in a decisive turn toward the West and eventual membership in the European Union, if not NATO. These factors will inevitably figure in Putin’s decisions in the coming days and weeks.

The last chance to influence these decisions, at least in the short term, depends on the seriousness of the responses of the West to the Sunday referendum in the Crimea.

Step 2 (of 3) of the sanctions response of the EU is likely to be decided upon Monday in Brussels, and next week in Washington. Unless the sanctions are really sharp, including a number of recently-imagined “Step 3″ sanctions, they are not likely to be seen by Putin as anything other than a sign of weakness on the part of Europe and the West.

Paradoxically, the best chance for Europe and the West to avoid a total breakdown in economic and commercial relations with Russia depends on their imposing very stiff sanctions now. If Putin changes course, they can be relaxed.

It should be clearly understood in the West, however, that Obama’s risible statements that there will be “costs” or “consequences” if the Russians don’t back down are probably seen in Moscow as a show of utter weakness.

Obama’s fine intellectual distinctions and diffidence in his choice of words in all likelihood only confirm Putin’s belief that Obama is a weak character, unable even to pull the trigger on military strikes against Syria in response to al-Assad’s crossing His “red line” by using chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013 (and actually much earlier, on multiple occasions).

It is time for Obama and Europe’s leaders to speak forthrightly, and to eschew the diplomatic and euphemistic niceties that now make no sense, if they ever did, in dealing with a rogue state which has committed naked aggression against the Ukraine.

Russia has seized part of its territory by military force, employing subterfuge, lies, and “The Big Lie” that Russian citizens and Russian-speaking Ukrainians were the object of threats and attacks against their lives and safety. Moreover, Russia continues to threaten further aggression, while moving troops and engaging in military exercises near the Ukrainian border to back up its threats.

We are no longer dealing with the logic of words and hopes to persuade by logic, in dealing with men who have taken over the territory of another country, and who menacingly threaten to expand the geographical scope of their military intervention.

As suggested here earlier, NATO should not only express receptiveness to the Ukraine’s request for military equipment and intelligence cooperation, made by its prime minister in his meetings with President Obama in Washington on Thursday, but also indicate clearly that the request will be granted if Russia proceeds with annexation of the Crimea.

To forestall further Russian aggression in other parts of the Ukraine, NATO should actively consider and make contingency plans for moving 10,000 to 20,000 troops into the Ukraine, in response to any request from the latter for assistance in exercise of the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, in accordance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

This is not a time to focus, first of all, on what individual countries might or might not be willing to do, but rather a moment to assess the requirements of the situation if desired results are to be achieved, and to reflect deeply on the consequences of failure.

Above all, it is a time for action.

It is not a time for announcing actions that will or may be taken in the future, but rather the occasion for implementation of really tough and far-reaching sanctions, to take effect immediately or in the shortest time possible.

With armies on the move and Putin caught in the “groupthink” of a small circle of hardline national security chiefs, anything less is not likely to capture his attention.

A further point is of fundamental importance. Only the strongest of sanctions are likely to bolster the position of officials within Putin’s government who have a broader understanding of the world and the dire consequences continuing aggression are likely to bring down on Russia. Strong action by the West is required, above all, to shift the constellation of advisers which surround Putin (and the views they represent), and consequently the flow of information and advice upon which he bases his understanding of the situation and decides to take action.

Thus, to pierce Putin’s delusional bubble, to broaden his sources of information and advice, and to counter the “groupthink” which appears to hold him and his narrow circle of national security advisers in its grip, the West must act forcefully, enacting strong sanctions and taking other hard actions, with immediate effect.

For countries deciding how tough the measures can be which they will take, one final consideration should weigh heavily in the balance. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 in exchange for guarantees of its territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence from the Russian Federation and the United States, guaranteed in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

As Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk eloquently argued at the Security Council meeting on March 13, if Russian military intervention in the Crimea is allowed to stand, no nation in the future will agree to give up nuclear weapons.

Consequently, in addition to the more obvious issues, the nuclear non-proliferation regime hangs in the balance, as do the 5 + 1 talks, and whether Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state.

Recent Opinion and Commentary

For illuminating commentary on the Ukraine crisis, and the long-term impact of Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine both forn him and for Russia, see the following articles:

(1) “Ukraine Crisis: Putin, the Loser”

Nikolaus Blome(Kommentar), “Ukraine-Krise: Putin, der Verlierer,” Der Spiegel, 14 Marz 2014 (11:11 Uhr).

(2) “The Agent in his Labyrinth”

Roger Cohen, “The Agent in His Labyrinth, New York Times, March 13, 2014.

(3) “Obama Has Made America Look Weak”

John McCain, “Obama Has Made America Look Weak (John McCain on Responding to Russia’s Aggression),” New York Times, March 14, 2014.

(4) “Putin’s ‘Honest Brokers’”

Maxim Trudolyubov, “Putin’s Honest Brokers,” New York Times, March 14, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

The qualities that are needed in a new CIA Director, Part I (with video links to Feinstein Senate speech and Brennan rebuttal)

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

(Developing story–check back for updates over the next few days)

John Brennan’s battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Torture Report

Given his past associations with Bush’s torture and other scandalous programs, and his role in overseeing White House targeted killing lists and ensuing drone strikes with the president’s approval and/or participation, John Brennan should never have been confirmed as Director of the CIA.

Now he has become both the symbol of a rogue CIA and the primary obstacle to getting control of the agency and bringing it back under the supervision and control of a democratic state governed by law. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, that supervision is the responsibility of both the president and the congress, including in particular the Senate Intelligence Committee which is chaired by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California).

She has now delivered an extraordinary speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in which she lays out in detail the obstruction her committee has encountered in dealing with the CIA, particularly in connection with the drafting, declassification, and publication of a 6,000 word report on the CIA’s involvement in George W. Bush’s torture program, euphemistically referred to as one of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, or as Brennan referred to them in his Senate confirmation hearings, “EIT’s”.

For background on Brennan and his confirmation hearings, see the following article and the articles cited in it:

“Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2013.

As noted below, the Krass nomination was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 4, 2014.

It is difficult to imagine how John Brennan can continue to lead the CIA, now that he is involved in a very public and bitter dispute with the Senate Intelligence Committee and its Chair, Senator Feinstein–over matters that go to the very heart of what constitutes democratic government under the rule law.

Brennan’s hubris was once again revealed as he immediately gave a TV interview in which he contradicted Senator Feinstein.

Despite his extraordinarily close relationship with President Obama, to whom he served in many respects as a mentor and guide to the secret world of intelligence operations, Brennan should begin looking for a new job.

Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine and military seizure of the Crimea has been a wake-up call for Washington, demonstrating again how international law is important after all, particularly in terms of setting precedents, and of mobilizing coalitions and generating international support for collective action.

Russian intervention in the Ukraine has underlines the fact that unsanctioned violations of international law weaken its authority, and even its most important provisions including the prohibition of the illegal threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state.

It is now time for the United States to put its rogue actions behind it, and to bring its policies and actions into compliance with international law.

Brennan is a symbol and defender of these rogue policies from the past, and doesn’t fit the new requirements of the job. To cite but one example, at his confirmation hearings, he was unable to bring himself to admit that “waterboarding” constitutes torture.

A new kind of leader is needed at the CIA.

Links to Videos and Transcripts

For links to the video and transcripts of Senator Feinstein’s speech on the Senate floor, and Brennan’s response, see:

(1) “Sen. Feinstein Accuses CIA of Searching Congressional Computers,” C-SPAN, March 11, 2014. (CLIP FROM MARCH 11, 2014, Senate Session, Part 1, with informal transcript).

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee says the CIA improperly searched a stand-alone computer network established for Congress as part of its investigation into allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California defended her committee’s work and challenged the CIA on Tuesday as she sought to set the record straight amid various reports of disputes between Congress and the agency.

For the YouTube video, click here.

(2) “CIA Director Denies Spying on Senate Intel Committee” NBC News, March 11, 2014 (with video link).

(3) The Senate Intelligence Committee approved the nomination of Carolyn Krass to be General Counsel of the CIA on March 4, it was announced on March 6, 2014, by a vote of 13-2. If approved by the full Senate, she will replace acting General Counsel Robert Eatinger, who has been at the center of a number of controversial issues and decisions related to the torture program.

The Qualities Needed in a New CIA Director

(To be continued)

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

On floor of Senate, Senator Feinstein speaks of grave constitutional violations by CIA (with video link)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

(Developing)

See:

Corine Lesnes (Washington), “Menacée par un rapport sur la torture, la CIA soupçonnée de piratage du Sénat américain, Le Monde, 12 mars 2012 (12.03.2014 (Mis à jour à 07h19).

Scott Wilson, “CIA feud with Senate panel puts lack of post-9/11 accountability in spotlight,” Washington Post, March 11, 2014.

Video: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) spoke Tuesday on the Senate floor for almost 40 minutes about a controversy between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA. Here are the highlights.

“Key moments from Senator Feinstein’s soeech,” Washington Post, March 12, 2014 (video).

Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman, “Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry,” New York Times, March 11, 2014.

For background, see also the following article and articles cited therein:

“Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

“F… the EU!” — U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland reveals—once again—the incompetence of the Obama administration

Friday, February 7th, 2014

When Stanley McChrystal spoke disrespectfully of U.S. and French leaders, and was caught unexpectedly by now-deceased Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings (The Operators), when he published McChrystal’s and his team’s dismissive comments, McChrystal was fired. See

“McChrystal, Petraeus, COIN, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan,” The Trenchant Observer, June 23, 2010.

After McChrystal: Obama, Petraeus, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan
Wednesday, June 23, 2010.

Now a U.S. diplomat, Victoria Nuland, has been taped in a telephone conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, in the Ukraine, discussing in great detail the efforts the U.S. was making to influence the flow of events within that country, including an extremely vulgar statement (“Fuck the EU!”) to dismiss Europe’s approach and diplomacy aimed at resolving the current crisis.

In the greatly coarsened culture of America in 2014, the use of the “F___” word, however disappointing in the mouth and thoughts of the Assistant Secretary of State and Special Ambassador for Europe and Eurasia, probably has a meaning more or less equivalent to that which “Screw the EU” might have had 10 or 20 years ago.

It’s not so much the language that is offensive, as the hubris revealed in Nuland’s statement about the weight to be given to Europe’s diplomatic efforts, and indeed in the entire recorded conversation, that gives offense.

Posting of the conversation on YouTube has also revealed, once again, the incompetence of the State Department’s administration, the same one that was responsible for the fiasco at Benghazi. Nuland, incidentally, played an important role in the drafting of the “talking points” for Susan Rice. See

Siobhan Hughes, “Nominee Nuland Takes Heat Over Benghazi at Hearing,” Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2013.

Guy Taylor, “Benghazi talking points not shared with Clinton, Nuland says,” The Washington Times, July 11, 2013.

How is it possible that Nuland was either speaking on an unsecured line to the Ambassador to the Ukraine, in the Ukraine, about such delicate matters of state, or speaking on a secure line whose encryption could be cracked? Secretary of State Kerry or President Obama owes the nation an explanation of which of these two possibilities was the case.

At the same time, one should take note of the deep-felt appreciation of Nuland’s skills and experience expressed by Stefan Kornelius in his op-ed in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Kornelius stresses that Nuland knows Europe better than any other top U.S. official, and has been a stalwart supporter of Europe within the Obama administration.

See Stefan Kornelius, “US-Diplomatin Victoria Nuland: Rasiermesserscharfe Liebe für die Europäer,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 07. FEBRUAR 2014, (17:46).

Washingtons Europa-Beauftragte Victoria Nuland ist nicht erst seit ihrem derben “Fuck the EU” als Anhängerin des direkten Wortes bekannt. Sie ist konfrontativ, schnell, ungeschützt – und gleichzeitig eine der besten Europa-Kennerinnen der USA.

Still, the broader implications of this new State Department disaster need to be seriously appreciated. It is much more than a gaffe. The recorded conversation shows U.S. diplomats deeply involved in the day-to-day politics of the struggle for power in the Ukraine, and is likely to hurt the standing of opposition leaders in the face of accusations from Putin and Yanukovych that the rebellion in the Ukraine is being orchestrated by the West.

See Carsten Luther (Kommentar), “Ukraine-Diplomatie: ‘Fuck the EU’ ist nicht das Problem,” Die Zeit, 7 Februar 2014.

US-Spitzendiplomatin Nuland schimpfte auf die EU, ihr Telefonat wurde öffentlich. Doch jenseits von derben Sprüchen zeigt sie Probleme der westlichen Ukraine-Politik auf. Ein Kommentar von Carsten Luther 144 Kommentare

If as almost certainly appears to be the case the call was made on an unsecured telephone line, someone in the State Department in Washington should be held accountable for the lack of strict protocols, or the lack of their strict enforcement, among the personnel of the Department.

The reaction of the White House Press spokesman, and also that of the State department, only underline the extent to which the Obama administration is incapable of grasping the significance of events, being content to use the “spinning” techniques of electoral politics to deal with the hard realities of world affairs–merely forming well-crafted sentences. Alas! If foreign policy were only a matter of words!

See, in this connection, George F. Will, “President Obama’s magic words and numbers,” Washington Post, February 7, 2014.

The attempt to blame the Russians for making the conversation public is rich indeed, coming from the administration that tapped Angela Merkel’s cell phone, and beyond that is ludicrous in the extreme.

White House spokesman Jay Carney would not discuss the content of the conversation recorded in the clip, but he too invoked the Loskutov tweet. “I would say that since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia’s role,” he said.

At the State Department, Psaki said that if the Russians were responsible for listening to, recording and posting a private diplomatic telephone conversation, it would be “a new low in Russian tradecraft”. Pressed on whether the call was authentic, Psaki said: “I didn’t say it was US official apologises to EU counterparts for undiplomatic language.

–Ed Pilkington (New York), “Victoria Nuland reportedly said ‘Fuck the EU’ speaking of Ukraine crisis, though department didn’t confirm it was her voice on tape,” The Guardian, February 6, 2014 (18:18 EST).

On the background and details of the Nuland affair, in addition to those cited above, see the following articles:

Marc Pitzke, (New York/Reuters) “Fuck”-Fauxpas: In der Abhörfalle, Der Spiegel, 7 Februar 2012.

Victoria Nuland: Ungeschützt am Mobiltelefon geplaudert
Victoria Nuland telefonierte ohne Stimmverschlüsselung – und das ist offenbar normal im US-Außenministerium. Jetzt wundert sich die Abhör- und Geheimdienstgroßmacht USA über die bescheidenen Sicherheitsstandards der eigenen Diplomaten und Staatsdiener.

Claudia Thaler, “Fuck the EU”: Wer bespitzelte die US-Diplomatin? Der Spiegel,7 Februar 2014.

Die Aufregung um Victoria Nulands “Fuck the EU”-Entgleisung ist groß. Die USA beschuldigen den russischen Geheimdienst, hinter dem Angriff zu stecken. Der Inhaber des YouTube-Accounts “Re Post” ist noch nicht identifiziert. Er ist seit rund einem Monat aktiv und offenbar kein Freund des Westens.

Gregor Peter Schmitz und Christoph Schult (Brüssel) “EU-Reaktionen auf US-Beleidigung: ‘Nuland hat keine Ahnung’,” der Spiegel, 7 Februar 2014.

Was wissen die USA schon vom Konflikt in der Ukraine? Mit dieser Botschaft geht die EU nach der Beleidigung aus Washington zum Gegenangriff über. Dass nach der NSA-Affäre ausgerechnet eine US-Diplomatin einem Lauschangriff zum Opfer gefallen ist, sorgt in Brüssel für Schadenfreude.

“Angela Merkel fumes at US diplomat’s curse of EU; German Chancellor criticises a comment that a senior US diplomat made about the European Union’s role in Ukraine, The Telegraph, February 7, 2014 (1:27PM GMT).

The Trenchant Observer

The Emperor and his vassals: Obama and the Surveillance State

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Jakob Augstein, in his column in the German weekly Der Spiegel, has written a penetrating analysis of Obama’s posturing and fine wordsmithing on the issue of U.S. surveillance of communications throughout the world.

Augstein cuts right through to the heart of the matter. At least in the area of spying and surveillance, Barack Obama has arrogated to himself the full powers of an absolute monarch, here an Emperor overseeing a vast realm. In exchange for loyalty, he provides security to his vassals and supporters, such as Germany and other European countries, the United States, and their citizens. His actions, like those of an absolute monarch, are unchecked by constitutional constraints such as those imposed on English kings since the Magna Carta in 1215.

Augstein notes that Obama, in addition to his speech on January 17, also gave a TV interview to the German ZDF network. He writes:

Before the speech and the interview, commentators had speculated on who the speaker would be: the Commander-in-Chief, or the civil rights lawyer? That was a misunderstanding. Here, a Ruler has spoken to his subjects. And the subjects, they are all of us….

In the interview with ZDF Barack Obama let a sentence slip out which contains more truth than the presidential press office can be happy with: “The President of the United States is not the great Emperor (Kaiser) of the whole world, but only a human being, a little wheel (cog) in this machine.” If one believes he has to speak this sentence, in truth he thinks the opposite, and this also fits the speech and the interview. In all the smart and friendly words there was only one message that sticks: The USA can do things which others cannot do, and when it considers it appropriate, it will do these things.”

Such are the views of Jakob Augstein, one of Germany’s leading commentators, in his current column in Der Spiegel.

See Jakob Augstein, “Obamas PR-Offensive: Der Kaiser und seine Vasallen; Präsident Obamas Rede und sein Interview im ZDF waren eindeutig: Die USA erheben Anspruch auf die digitale Herrschaft über den Planeten. Höchste Zeit, dass Deutschland und Europa aus der digitalen Krabbelgruppe kommen und lernen, auf eigenen Füßen zu stehen,” Der Spiegel, 20. Januar 2014 (13:05 Uhr).

For now, the column is available only in German. However, it can be read in different languages including English through Google translator, and should become available eventually on the English-language website of Der Spiegel.

The article merits a close reading and careful reflection.

For an earlier article by the same author on related subjects, in English, see:

Jakob Augstein (commentary), “Obama’s Soft Totalitarianism: Europe Must Protect Itself from America,” Der Spiegel (English), June 17, 2013.

It all sounds preposterous, kind of beyond belief. Yet those who have followed these issues closely know that it is not preposterous, and not beyond belief. We have learned a great deal about U.S. spying and surveillance activities in the last year.

To understand what is going on, still, we must look beyond the clever lawyer-like language in Obama’s speeches and statements, to his actions, and to what the United States is actually doing on the ground–and in the air, and on and under the oceans.

Then, we must measure these actions against the text of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which establishes the following:

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

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